Dickinson native Lehman hopes to represent United States at Summer Olympics
Following a standout collegiate career, Jess Lehman is ready to take an even bigger stage.Formerly Jess Herauf, the University of Minnesota track and field athlete and Dickinson native will arrive at the United States Olympic Trials in Eugene, Or...
Following a standout collegiate career, Jess Lehman is ready to take an even bigger stage.
Formerly Jess Herauf, the University of Minnesota track and field athlete and Dickinson native will arrive at the United States Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., on Tuesday and compete later this week for a shot to represent her country in the heptathlon at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Fresh off a seventh-place finish in the heptathlon at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships last month, Lehman feels prepared to take on the next level of competition.
“It’s definitely a step up. I’m really excited, a little nervous,” she said. “I’m so excited to be surrounded by those girls, but I have to realize there’s a reason I’m there too. I’m there to compete. I’m not there to spectate.”
The track and field trials began July 1 and continue through Sunday at the University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field. Lehman, who graduated from Dickinson High in 2011, starts her journey on Saturday with the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200 meters before finishing on Sunday with the long jump, javelin and 800 meters.
To make the United States Olympic team, athletes have to finish in the top three of an event and surpass an Olympic qualifying standard, which for the heptathlon is 6,200 points.
In Lehman’s junior year at Minnesota, she set the school and Big 10 record in the heptathlon with 6,014 points. At the NCAA championships that season, she placed fifth with 5,965 points.
“She’s the Big 10 record holder. She’s as good as they get at the college level,” said Peter Miller, assistant track and field coach at Minnesota. “She’s talented enough to compete at the next level. Hopefully she can take a step forward. … I think (qualifying) is in the back of everybody’s mind. If you take all her personal records, they’ll add to over 6,200 points.”
The Olympic Games will run Aug. 5-21. To even be in the position to qualify for Games, Miller said, speaks to Lehman’s work ethic.
“We trained hard all fall and through the indoor and outdoor seasons, so all the hay’s in the barn, you could say,” Miller said. “It’s just about getting her rested up for the (heptathlon) itself. It’s a grueling two days, so we’re resting up and trying to get her mentally in a good place and physically in a good place.”
Since concluding her college career in the second week of June at the NCAA championships - also at Hayward Field - Lehman said she has tried to stay fresh while also making sure she is adequately prepared.
“If we haven’t figured some things out by now, it’s not like we’re going to get it in the last two days,” Lehman said, “so we haven’t been doing anything too crazy - just tapering the workouts and trying to stay healthy. It’s been a lot of short practices.”
Miller said he and Gophers head coach Matt Bingle - both of whom will attend the trials - have a specific training regimen for Lehman, and it’s best to not stray from that now.
“For her to be successful, rest is a big part of it,” Miller said. “She battled some (back and shoulder) injuries in her career, so we figured we had to train her a little differently. Sometimes less is more. If she’s healthy and happy, she’s a heck of a competitor.
“Every athlete, especially in the (heptathlon), they’re going to beat their body up, but she’s stuck through it and competed well at the right time.”
Lehman said she’s thankful for all the time Miller and Bingle have invested in her, her teammates and the program, evidenced by the fact that Miller was on the recruiting trail over the Fourth of July weekend, and Bingle was in Jamaica helping prepare other Gophers for the island nation’s Olympic trials.
“You take a risk any time you pick a college for any sport, but I’ve had an incredible past five years, and it’s been all because of them,” Lehman said. “I don’t know what I would do if they weren’t going to be (in Oregon). I’m so happy they’re willing to make the trip, because it’s out of their normal season. They’ve been the most supportive and amazing coaches I could ever ask for.”
Further, the Olympic trials will have a sense of normalcy in that Nicolle Murphy, a Minnesota junior from Arkansas City, Kan., will be competing as well. She’ll participate in the javelin on Thursday and, potentially, Saturday. Lehman will also be wearing a Gophers uniform while competing in what has come be known as TrackTown, USA.
“Just being in that environment is a huge positive for anybody competing,” Lehman said. “The whole town is all track nerds. It’s great to feel that support because not all places are like that. It’s an honor to compete at that level.”
Lehman is well aware of the test ahead of her, but she’s making her first foray into the Olympic trials with an open mind and plenty of optimism.
“We’ve done all the work to get us there. We’re just going to get in the environment and enjoy it,” Lehman said. “I’m not sure what I’m ranked right now, but anything can happen on the day, especially in the multis. Some people can scratch, or you can have weather, have good events or bad events. … There’s obviously a big challenge. It’s a step up from college, but just to be surrounded by that caliber of athletes is already a huge honor.”
Despite the odds and the increased level of competition, Miller remembers what Lehman is capable of. She does not get starstruck easily.
“It’s a challenge for anybody in their first non-NCAA meet. In NCAAs, it’s the same age, a lot of the same experience level, but here you have world champions and people you’ve seen on TV,” Miller said. “Jess does a great job of taking it one event at a time. It’s the best non-Olympic track meet in the world. It’s a challenge, but I think she’s ready for it.
“Knock on wood, she’s never really had a bad meet, and hopefully that continues.”